I’m Tanya Meessmann, and you’re listening to the Raising Girl Shaped Flames Podcast.
[00:12] It’s my fundamental belief that every girl has a fire in her belly, and confidence is the oxygen to those flames. If you’re the parent of a teenage girl who could do with a confidence injection, listen in as we deep dive into the relationship between confidence and areas of your daughter’s life it directly impacts such as happiness, resilience, communication, connection and much more. I aim to leave you inspired by new ways to build your daughter’s self-belief and nurture her flame from a flicker into an inferno. All right, all right, enough of the fire puns already. Let’s strike the match.
Hi!.. and welcome to Episode One of the Raising Girl Shaped Flames Podcast. My name’s Tanya Meessmann, and traditionally I would be hosting an interview with one of our amazing guests. However, this time around we’re going to kick off with me, weirdly hosting myself! I thought the best place to start would be to talk about my own relationship with confidence and how it has served me throughout my life. And whenever I work with girls through our Girl Shaped Flames activities and events, and I do often start off by telling them a bit of my story so they can understand where I’m coming from and what I can offer them as far as knowledge and guidance when it comes to confidence and self-belief. I thought I would treat all of you with the same introduction. So what I’d like to do is, I like to tell the girls about how amazing my life has been.
All of the ‘Ups’ [01:42]
I have had an amazing life. I grew up in a small, safe, sunny beach town called Yeppoon with a really supportive community and lots of great friends. We owned a night club when I was just nine years old. That’s not, obviously, the ideal place for a nine year old, but it was a really creative nightclub. My father ran it and he was very creative person. And so there was a lot of involving the community and making a lot of amazing connections. And obviously I learned how to run a DJ deck at the age of nine. So that is a skill that proved in no way useful later on in my life!
My father was also a pilot, and we had – well in his spare time he was a civil engineer – but we had a small Cessna plane and we used to take little adventure trips up the coast. We also had a – let’s call it a ‘boat’ – not so much a yacht, but it had a mast and sails. We had a 20 foot something-or-other we used to sail over to the islands and lots of sort of outdoors and adventure and things like that.
By the time I got into primary school, I actually got to skip a Grade five, and our whole family spent nine months travelling around the world. We have other family in Africa – my parents are from Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe – we also did the UK, bits of Europe, we did USA, and we finished up with three weeks of sailing in Tahiti. And all of that was just the most eye-opening, incredibly developmental experience, for, I guess I was 11 at the time.
I was then in high school, I had a good run of it as well. I had a great group of friends. I was elected Mayor in Grade 12 of the first ever Livingston Shire Junior Council. I graduated with an OP4, for those of you who remember (well, they literally changed it this year) but remember the OP system? I probably could have done a little bit better, but I was really active outside of school. I had a very heavy extracurricular plate and I had part time jobs and things like that. So I saw the benefit in splitting my time across personal development as well as academic development, let’s call it.
I then went on to land a scholarship for my dream University course at Bond University. When I graduated (the top of my university degree) – after a couple of years of very hard work, a lot of focus, not a lot of playtime – I was selected as one of 12 from an international application process for a graduate programme at DDB, which is one of the biggest advertising agencies in Australia, which I was fairly excited by – small town Yeppoon girl making it big and heading down to Sydney – for my first real job. When I finished the graduate programme, I actually got a job on their largest account, the McDonald’s account, and started a really robust and exciting advertising career. When I was 22 I took a whim and jumped on a plane and moved over to London all by myself, and quickly found work at some of the big ad agencies there. I worked on amazing brands like Virgin and Nokia and Grolsch.
Then, after a couple of years, I actually followed my passion over into film production. I had been involved in drama and writing scripts all of my life, and I knew that that would be my dream existence, to either direct or write or produce. I worked, again really hard, and by the time I was 26 I had production managed and line-produced three feature films and loads of commercials and things like that. While I was over there, in the UK and Europe, I was there for seven years and I travelled – I think at last count I travelled and worked across 12 different countries – and went on to meet my now husband and eventually moved back to Australia. When I got back to Australia, I line produced six more feature films, worked on commercials and loads of different formats, and then went on to start my beautiful family and I now have two gorgeous sons, which I know is ironic, considering my line of work, but they’re fantastic and we now live back in sunny, beautiful Queensland, Australia.
When I take a minute to explain my journey to the girls, I don’t just tell them the good stuff. I also make sure that they understand that there is another side to life and my other side is this.
And now for the Downs… [06:15]
When I was 11 I was told that my father was an alcoholic. This was after owning the nightclub and having lots of amazing fun and adventures, and it came as a very total surprise to 11 year old me and I didn’t quite understand what it meant, but we did shortly afterwards separate from Dad and moved out. When I was a month away from turning 13 and I was starting high school, the next town over with none of my primary school friends, my father died suddenly from complications arising from alcoholism, so that was a challenging start to high school, I would say.
By Grade nine, I was suffering rather debilitating bullying. I was taunted for my over-developed academic abilities and over-developed female physique. I won’t repeat the language that the girls used to use – and the boys – but it related to the chest region, and it was certainly not complimentary.
At my last Year 12 graduation party that I was due to attend a really close male friend of mine and I finally found a corner and confessed our true feelings for each other. After being close friends for the last few years of high school, we mapped out a very exciting young love plan, moving Interstate together and finally sort of see where that might go. Only to then for me to wake up the next day and find out that he had actually been involved in a horrific drink driving accident and after nearly dying was now, and continues to be, a C4 paraplegic. We did actually end up together for nearly a year while he was through the worst of his recovery. But, to be honest, I was 18, living away from home for the first time, trying to uphold a 75% minimum on my scholarship and dealing with what is has to be some of the most heavy emotions you can deal with at any age, really, and so, needless to say, that did break apart and broke hearts along the way.
The early parts of my career went as they said in Sydney, but the spontaneous move to the UK wasn’t on as free of a whim as I made it sound, basically I was trying to escape pretty certain mental breakdown. I was pushing myself incredibly hard, working about 70-hour weeks in the advertising world, trying to prove myself, trying to maintain my high standards, and really had just reached breaking point and literally walked up the road Kings Cross Flight Centre one day, hand my credit card and said, I need to get out of here and booked a plane to London, walked down the road and resigned. It’s not a suggested technique, but it was what I needed to do at the time. I ran out of money within the first six weeks of moving to London, the exchange rates were horrific, and I then went on the witness two violent muggings in the area I had chosen to live. So that was a super start to living in the UK.
The first few years in the UK, they were interesting. They were fun, lots of hard work, a bit of play and travel. It was when I moved over into my film career that I really started to understand my own vulnerabilities as far as, what I could and couldn’t do and then the truest test that an overachiever can ever face happened to me. A few years into my UK journey, I was fired from my third feature film. I will save the details for another day and many of the girls have heard my story about that, and the official story remains that it was a ‘mutually agreed separation’. But the truth of it is that over-confidence had kind of struck and I got myself into a situation that I wasn’t actually qualified to do and I couldn’t manage. It was a huge learning curve, an opportunity for me. I was still young – I was 24 or 25 at the time – so that was a really big lesson for me.
Then the recession hit, pretty much straight away. I was forced back into advertising, had to put my film dreams on hold and kind of crawl my way – I’d started my film career in Belfast and then had to start it again in London and had a few years of it there – then, as I mentioned before I met my husband, moved back to Australia and I was unemployed for six months while I was trying to start my film career – again – in the third country.
I struggled with early motherhood; the loss of independence, the right to my own time, my own thoughts and my own body. And then I had challenges with both births as well. My first son – we still don’t entirely know the reason – but after the birth, I haemorrhaged significantly, lost a litre and half of blood in a very short amount of time and spent the first seven or eight hours of my son’s life being checked on every 15 minutes by the nurses to determine whether I needed a blood transfusion of sizeable proportions, which was a shocking start to motherhood. And then my second son, there were what ended up being minor but significant complications at the time, it seemed, who was – after literally 12 hours after being born – rushed to ICU, stripped down, wired up and then spent three or four days recovering in special care after they determined that, in fact, there was nothing wrong.
What do we learn from this? [12:00]
But this isn’t a pity party. I tell the girls this story because I want to demonstrate to them confidence. I want to show them confidence, courage and self-belief in action. I survived and thrived all of these things because I had it engrained in me from a really young age that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.
So now I thought what I might touch on was a little bit of about things that actually contributed to this resilience and these attitudes in my youth. A key reason why Girl Shaped Flames focus is on teenage girls is because I do believe it is a key – and in fact science tells us – it is a key developmental period of time in their lives. And the work that is done while they’re teenagers on themselves to develop confidence and courage and resilience is what pays off in the decades to follow. And that’s why it’s critical that the work is done now.
Aspects of my youth that built my confidence [13:00]
So, when I was starting Girl Shaped Flames, I looked back on my youth and I sort of thought, well, what is it that I did that actually helped me become confident and help me weather some of these storms that I’ve been through in my life? And I came up with a couple of things.
So, the first one was trying new things. Through trying new things, it was developing a really clear, or at least much clearer understanding of who I was is a person; what I was good at and what I was not good at. What I liked and what I didn’t like. What I wanted, what I didn’t want; my value system. All of those things were challenged each time I did something that was new – or out of my comfort zone. And so trying new things really became a fundamental part of me just really getting that map that’s in the dark and pulling out a torch and shining on it and lighting up bits of pieces. I talked to the girls – they’re so young, none of them know what Age of Empires is – but there is a game Age of Empires, and you start with a map and the map is dark. And every time you move around the map, it lights up, and once you’ve moved into that spot of the map, it stays lit up, and then you can come back to it and have a look at it. And when you zoom back out and see a macro view of the map, you can still see all the bits that have lit up. I don’t think they need to know what Age of Empires is in order to understand that analogy, but it kind of helps. So I try new things, it was a really key part of my childhood.
The second thing was being made to continue with things, even if I wasn’t naturally good at them. Now my mum will be the first person to tell you that if I am not naturally good at something, I will move away from it fairly quickly. I’m not one to stick around if I suck it something. However, both of my parents put a lot of effort when I was younger into making sure that I did try stuff that was not natural to me, and I’m going to get two more of that in a minute, but really committing to continue with activities – even if I wasn’t naturally good at them – was something that helped build my resilience and build that determination within me.
I’ve sort of made this point earlier with the trying lots of new things, but getting out of my comfort zone was really critical to developing my own confidence and courage because the more I got out of my comfort zone, the wider my comfort zone became, and one key thing I talked to the girls about a lot is their line of perceived ability and how the line is very close to us when we are feeling nervous about something. But the more we try and do things, we push the line outwards, and then we know we can do where the line now sits.
How my parents and role models influenced me [15:52]
So those are three kinds of things that I reflect on from my childhood. But I sort of can’t reflect on my childhood without noting some of the other forces at play. In my own development were my parents and role models, who all really influenced my confidence along the way. And I think when we look at any teenage girls and we look at the people in their lives that surround them, you can see how those people influence how the girl feels about herself or feels about challenges or feels about setbacks. There’s a really direct correlation there.
So there was sort of four key things I reflected on about role models, and my parents, which tie a lot back into the points I just mentioned, but my parents were really big on that encouragement to try. Now I think there’s one thing to just be an individual who goes and tries things, and it’s another thing to actually have the people in your life being the people to encourage you to do that. And so any new thing – it could have been a new food or a new person we were meeting or a new task or a place we were going – we were really encouraged and sometimes, ahem, made to go and do these things that are outside of our comfort zone, and that just played a huge role in becoming less afraid of new things. When you get very used to the act of being around new things and doing new things, it becomes familiar to do to you and it’s not scary anymore. And I think the real secret was that we would make a commitment. We would stick with something for a certain period of time, regardless of our success or natural ability and – let’s be honest, whether we actually enjoyed it or not – and that again, that really taught me to just put up with things that I’m not good at and less than ideal outcomes, so it wasn’t a shock to me when I got older and those things happened for regularly.
The second thing is really around problem solving and this one, for me, is huge. So my father’s a civil engineer and my mum is a physiotherapist, and both of them have very, very problem solving minds and that seeped into mine and my sister’s childhoods – and continues to this day – where, basically, whenever we would come across a problem or a challenge, it was our family’s natural response to try to figure it out, to try to find a solution. To look at how do you get over it, under it, around it; whatever the barrier or the problem is. And so ultimately that was bred into us as an instinctive behaviour was that if we came up against something that was a problem, or a barrier, that we would tussle with it for as long as we possibly could to find a solution. And my dad in particular took great joy and shoving me out the way if I was struggling over some sort of a problem or issue and sitting there trying to figure it out. And like I said my mum to this day is such a problem solver. Whenever I have a challenge I need to work through I call her up and we sit there and we throw ideas around and we sort of determine what may or may not be possible. You know, that is a value and a skill that, if you can get that ingrained when you are young, pays off incredible dividends as you get older, from a mindset perspective, from a confidence perspective, the idea of having the gumption and the commitment to try to problem solve your way out of things is incredibly powerful.
The third point was being given the freedom to be dramatic and expressed myself. So I was born fairly naturally confident, but people who are naturally confident can still have their confidence eroded if they’re not supported, and I just feel incredibly lucky to look back on my childhood and really believe that I was allowed to be me and I was allowed to entertain at the dinner table when we had guests and tell them Irish jokes and long-winded stories – and not be shushed and told to sort of be quiet and behave. Now manners are a big thing in our household. But I was given the stage and the floor whenever I wanted to express myself and it was encouraged. And I just think that that really fed into this development of self-worth and this development of the acceptance that a really cornerstone elements of confidence development, to not feel that you are being judged or shushed, or that the version of you that you are it is not acceptable to someone. To be valued and encouraged is so powerful as an experience and very formative as you move forward through life. To then have the confidence to continue to be yourself so truly.
The final point is really around role models, so the power in people speaking up when they witness a young girl’s potential. It’s one thing to mention to the person next to you “Oh, gosh, she’s so good at that thing. Oh, wow, isn’t she amazing?”, and it’s another thing to go up to that person and say “You are very good at that” or “I believe in you, and in fact, I believe in you so much I am now going to help and support you”. And I had people in my life that did that. I remember my first, one of my gymnastics coaches – after I broke my arm quite badly and I couldn’t do gymnastics anymore, and I’ve done it for about eight years – she said to me, “Why don’t you come and coach the juniors?”. And I said, “I don’t know how to coach gymnastics”. She said, “It’s fine, I’ll teach you. I know that you know how to do gymnastics and I can teach you how to coach”.
Then when I was in school, my educators, my drama teacher, Ms Owens was a huge advocate of my potential in the creative space, which really cemented itself, so that when I went into filmmaking I remembered that belief and encouragement from her. But really the person who probably sets most fondly in my mind as far as a transformative belief in me was my physics teacher, Mr Mullane. Now I am the daughter of a civil engineer, as we’ve covered, and I did advanced math and I did IT and I went and took physics because I decided I was just like my dad – I also had drama on the side for a bit of creative release – and I did not do well at physics. In fact, I’m gonna blame physics for that OP4, I don’t know why it just didn’t click with me, and Mr Mullane knew how much I struggled through it, but he’s still really believed in me, and we had a conversation one afternoon when I was telling him how I had found this amazing degree at Bond I wanted to do, in business communications, but we were a single parent family, there’s no way we’d be able to afford to go, I’d have to be able to get a scholarship, but I can’t apply for a scholarship. I’m a small town, beach town, girl. There’s got to be all these people out there – girls who live in the metro areas – you must have some significantly enhanced education that I didn’t have or something that would make them far more likely to get scholarships. And he just looked at me and just said, “There is no reason. There is absolutely no reason why you wouldn’t qualify for a scholarship as much as they. Your grades are there, your attitude is there. There is no reason”. He also left me with my life motto that very same afternoon, where he basically as he was leaving, turned to look to me and said, “At the end of the day, if you don’t ask, the answer is ‘no’”. And so I went on to ask, got the scholarship, went to Bond.
So you can see the impact that it has when people really do believe in you and actively go out and try to support you, which is what I hope for our girls who are growing and developing with their confidence.
At the end of the day, I am so incredibly proud of my life. I’m proud of what I’ve weathered and proud of how I’ve weathered it. I’m proud of the opportunities I said yes to, and the chances I took and how I really believed in myself, every single step of the way. And I know that confidence, courage and self-belief have played a significant role in my ability to be able to sit here and even say that.
The beginning of Girl Shaped Flames [24:04]
So that’s why three years ago I started my social enterprise, Girl Shaped Flames, which I won’t go into details about right now, but you can find out some more information at girlshapedflames.com. But I started it to realise a dream, and I dream is that every girl – every single girl – not only comes to understand exactly the power she has within her to direct her own path, but also has a set of really strong role models and cheerleaders surrounding her to fan those flames and let her never forget what she’s actually capable of.
So that’s my story. If anything you’ve heard today about my story and what I’ve learned along the way, if you think any of it might help empower your daughter to maybe pursue her own dreams or find some confidence and courage, I have actually put together an online course which is called Stronger Than You Know, for teenage girls, and it takes them through my thoughts on confidence and resilience, some of the key lessons I’ve learned, why it’s important, what influences it had, how to build it et cetera, so you can find out some more information about that at girlshapedflames.com/courses.
9 Minutes of Neuroscience with Dr Diane Harner [25:30]
Before we wrap up today, we are going to duck over and hear from our resident neuroscientist and adolescent counsellor Dr Diane Harner. She’s going to be joining us each week to provide her Nine Minutes of Neuroscience on whichever topic we’ve just covered. And this week that topic was Confidence.
Tanya: Dr. Diane Harner is with us today – thank you so much Di, how are you going?
Dr Harner: Hi, Tanya. Hi, everybody.
Tanya: Thanks so much for coming on. And this is the first of many times we’re going to be here from you as we move through the amazing topics we have learned up of coming weeks. You know how much of a fan I am of neuroscience and your skills in particular around counselling for adolescents – amongst your many talents – and so I was thrilled when you said ‘yes’ when I asked for you to share some of that incredible knowledge and expertise with us each week on each of the topics. So thank you.
Dr Harner: I’m very excited to be a part of this. And I’m very pleased that you asked me so exciting times ahead.
Tanya: Well, I’m gonna throw you straight into the deep end because we want to kick off this week at the heart of what is most important to us at Girl Shaped Flames and that is confidence. So we’re going to start the clock. We’ve got our nine minutes of neuroscience, and I’d love to chat to you about what goes on with the teenage brain when it comes to confidence. Let’s go.
Dr Harner: Well, I thought we might start with defining the difference between self-esteem and confidence. So self-esteem is your overall sense of self-worth or personal value. So, in other words, it’s how much you like yourself. I think, Tanya, that is going to be a topic for another day… When we talk about confidence it’s about the trust that you have in your own abilities to succeed in the world.
Tanya: … and a really important difference there between self-esteem, and as you say, we’re going to get into that one another day. So confidence, being the trust that you have in your own abilities to succeed in the world, and so when I’m speaking to the girls at the various events that we do, what we talk about is if you’re walking into a situation, if you believe that you’re going to have a positive effect of the outcome of that situation, then that is your confidence at play. If you’re going to positively affect an outcome using your abilities, as for the definition, then that is your confidence that is coming to work. If you look at a situation and you are feeling quite helpless at the outcome, that means that you do not have high confidence levels. So one thing the girls asked me a lot because they sort of looked at me is a naturally confident person. And so often I hear “well, you know, you’re just born confident and therefore it’s just easy for you”, but is confidence something that can be developed or learnt, or are you just saddled with whatever you got at birth?
Dr Harner: So the answer is Yes, we can all develop confidence. Some people are very lucky and that they are born with a level of confidence which is determined by their genetics. But for most of us – and even for those people who are born with a little more get more confidence – confidence is learnt, which means we learn how to be confident and it’s also earned. And what I mean by earned is developing confidence isn’t easy. We have to go through times that are scary times where we don’t want to do things. And it’s the courage that we have in those moments to push through that negative emotion that gets us to confidence on the other side.
Tanya: Right. So what are the kinds of ways people could be training or developing these abilities? Through trial and error? Through risk taking and getting out of your comfort zone?
Dr Harner: Yes, so exactly those things that you said – it’s those times when we rise to the challenge. It’s times when we take risks. It’s times when we seize opportunities, when we’re put into difficult situations and we problem solve, and we figure out how to get out of it. When we take responsibility. And these are all very scary situations to put ourselves into. But it’s essential to do that, to be able to develop that trust in your ability to manage yourself in those scary situations.
Tanya: Hmmm (agreeing).
Dr Harner: Now we know that from the perspective of the brain that the brain is very plastic and the way that we learn new skills – including confidence – is by creating new connections between the neurons in our brain. Now, the thing about these new connections when we make them is that they’re quite weak in the beginning. So, if we try something once and it makes that connection, but we don’t do it again, that connection can kind of weaken. What we need to do, to be confident and learn to be confident, is to continuously strengthen those connections, which means we need to practice being confident. We need to practice putting ourselves into difficult situations. We need to practice testing the abilities that we have so we can get better at them and then develop more trust and therefore more confidence.
Tanya: That’s it. You make it sound so super easy (laughs)
Dr Harner: (laughs) Oh it’s not easy, that’s for sure, especially when we’re teenagers.
Tanya: Well, that’s it. And we’re going to be diving into a lot more detail around the teenage-specific challenges from a brain and neuroscience perspective in future episodes. One other aspect of the definition I wanted to just dive into as well was around that ‘succeed’. So trust in our inability to succeed in the world… are there different levels of perception of success that we should be taking into consideration here, as that would affect what level of confidence you have going into a situation?
Dr Harner: Yes, absolutely so everybody’s perception of what success looks like is different and it’s a very personal thing as well. So success to me might be coming fifth in a race because that is what I’ve been striving for. But success to you might be coming first.
Tanya: Yes it would be (laughs).
Dr Harner: (laughs) So, we need to also have a very clear picture of what success looks like for us, and I talk about this a lot when I talk about perfectionism as well. So success and perfection are very closely related. So when we talk about perfectionism, my level of perfect is different to yours, which is different to all of the listeners who are listening now.
Tanya: Hmmm (agreeing).
Dr Harner: So, when we’re building confidence; first of all, we need to visualise what success looks like. So we know when we’re there.
Dr Harner: So we know when we’ve developed those abilities that we’re looking for to help us feel confident.
Tanya: Hmmm (agreeing). So, we are 20 seconds away from our nine minute mark. So, is there anything you’d like to leave us with on that big picture definition of confidence that parents are listening? Could – maybe a tactic they could use to help support their daughter tomorrow when they wake up – something to do with confidence.
Dr Harner: So there’s two different types of confidence. There’s an intrinsic confidence that we get from inside ourselves. And there’s also extrinsic confidence that comes from the people around us when they believe in us on extrinsic confidence helps us develop our intrinsic confidence by giving us that little bit of extra support – and courage – to get through the difficult times, and the scary times that are on the road to developing our confidence.
Tanya: And I love that you just said that because the story that listeners have just listened to of my own personal journey – right towards the end there I spoke about the impact that role models and my parents had on my life. And it was exactly that the – did you say extrinsic?
Dr Harner: Mmm hmm (acknowledging yes)
Tanya: … confidence… it was exactly that feeding into helping me believe in myself because they were believing in me from an outside force. Perfect, if only I knew that word before I told the story.
Tanya: Well, thank you so much. That is a fantastic starting point. And I really can’t wait for many more Nine Minutes of Neuroscience with Dr Diane Harner. Thank you so much.
Dr Harner: Thanks Tanya, talk to you next time.
Thank you so much for joining me for this episode and listening to my story. We do have a Facebook group called Raising Girl Shaped Flames that you’re welcome to join. And if you do and you’ve listened to this episode, I’d love to hear any thoughts that you have that influenced you and your level of confidence when you were growing up.
In the meantime, if you haven’t yet already, do subscribe to this Podcast on iTunes – or wherever you get your podcast from – because we have a slate of fantastic, inspiring, amazing and such a variety of guests lined up over the next few weeks where we are going to keep diving into lots of different areas of the confidence and how they impact your daughter’s life.
Until then, keep fanning those flames.
Subscribe on your favourite podcast player:
Never Miss An Episode
Subscribe to our newsletter to be notified of new episodes, plus receive weekly Confidence Comms featuring useful information, tips, strategies and advice on how to raise confident, courageous daughters.